Eating Your Young

“Businesses that challenge established organisations are willing to ‘eat their young;’ they recognise that if they don’t someone else will whether they like it of not”…Clent Richardson, ex VP Worldwide Developer Relations & Solutions Marketing, Apple Inc.

This is a really powerful statement and those that don’t heed it will be eaten themselves. Businesses that stand still and try to protect what they’ve got will be left wondering what happened.

History is riddled with examples of organisations who failed to take advantage of opportunities for fear of cannibalising existing business. Two classic examples are:

  • Kodak, who could have had the jump on the digital camera market but were worried about losing the cash cow that was the film business
  • Sony, who were innovators in mobile music with the Walkman and should have made a huge impact in portable digital music, but could not resolve the conflict this created with their music distribution business.

Apple didn’t have this problem when they launched the iPhone. Even knowing that the new product would consume large chunks of the iPod market, they didn’t hold back – pushing forward with new products that challenge the market status quo is part of Apple’s DNA. And the business model they had created through the iTunes Store made it that much easier to eat the iPod.

Many businesses still base their marketing and product planning around the Growth Share Matrix developed by Boston Consulting in the 70’s. This tends to make businesses reluctant to ‘eat their young’ as they try to milk the Cash Cows for all they’re worth, often at the expense of developing their Stars.

Businesses today need to be continually looking for ways to challenge their competitors and themselves. If we try to always protect what we have we’ll soon find out we have nothing to protect. We need to step outside our comfort zone or be left behind.

(Thanks to Khurshed Dehnugara & Claire Genkai Breeze for providing me inspiration through their book ‘The Challenger Spirit’ – destined to be a classic in management reading)